High Court Rejects Appeal by Firm to Retain Drug Dealer's Legal Fees

Article excerpt

The Supreme Court refused yesterday to help an Alexandria law firm keep a $103,800 fee paid by a client who pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking.

In a decision that could discourage many lawyers from taking certain kinds of clients, justices turned down the firm's appeal of the Justice Department's aggressive efforts to recover narcotics traffickers' profits.

William P. Covington hired Moffitt, Zwerling & Kemler in August 1991 and paid the firm in cash, although the defense lawyers denied his claim that $86,800 was delivered "stuffed in a shoe box or Ritz cracker box." He was indicted months later and cut a plea bargain to give his property and "unstinting efforts" to help the government recoup the legal fees, which were long spent.

Former firm partner John Zwerling reacted to the defeat yesterday by saying the burden put on law firms "is almost impossible to meet" and interferes with an accused person's right to counsel. A court found the law firm had "a subjective belief the fee was legitimate money," he said, but could not say the firm had "no reason to believe" the money was the fruit of crime. …